The Hard Sell
Regardless of whether it's more difficult now than it used to be to initiate a writing career, it's certainly a publishing climate that can seem daunting to a young, unpublished author who finds the words "auction," "agent," and "world rights" more than a little befuddling. Twenty-four-year-old Jonathan Saffron Foer's first novel Everything Is Illuminated was recently acquired by Houghton Mifflin editor Eric Chinski in the mid-six figures; editors from 12 houses vied over the course of a weeklong auction to purchase the book, a loosely autobiographical story in which an American author goes to Ukraine to search for the woman who is reputed to have saved his grandfather during World War II. "I just felt like his writing is so rare," Chinski says. One of the reasons for Foer's success (the main reason being the quality of his manuscript) is actually his "ignorance of what was going on," he says. "It very much came down to trusting the opinions of good friends," Foer told me several weeks after his novel was bought, adding that he is not a "business person." "I wouldn't even help the situation by involving myself more than was strictly necessary."